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I Understand Why My Teen Says “I Hate You”

“I HATE YOU!” My 13-year-old son screamed this to me from the dark recesses of his messy bedroom. Those words, a fiery arrow of frustration that stung my tender momma’s heart, have been uttered more than I dreamed possible before my sweet, innocent, young cherub-of-a-son turned into a teenager…..

Seventh grade has been a wild ride full of so many changes and so many challenges with my son. We went from the peace and solace of sixth grade to the wild and reckless abandon of seventh grade. There have been social media issues, talking in class issues, inappropriate language issues, and disrespect issues. The number of issues we have dealt with this year is positively overwhelming—for my son and even more so for me. 

This heated exchange, late at night, was nothing new. Chores were left undone, and homework was waiting to be completed, yet YouTube was still blaring in full swing. Tempers flared. Words were said, and I finally told my boys to go to bed as I had nothing left at this particular junction of the evening. 

It occurred to me as I was lying in bed, replaying the conversations, the yelling, the frustration, and the desire to understand the angst my son was feeling during this time. He doesn’t hate me. I am his mother. He is my child. I love him more than anything, and I know that deep down in his heart, somewhere under these adolescent layers, he loves me, too. He is just as much a part of my essence as the physical air I breathe. There is no way on earth he could actually hate me…..

Yet, when the tides are turning, when hormones are raging, when he is struggling to emerge from a little boy into a grown man, there must be so many complex emotions boiling up to the surface, desperately needing to be released. I am beginning to understand why my teen son says, “I hate you.” I know he doesn’t hate me, but he could certainly hate all the hard things he is experiencing right now…

Perhaps he hates change. As inevitable as change is, it is the one constant in this life we can count on. If, at my ripe old age of 44, I still hate change, how can I possibly expect my son, on the threshold of so many uncontrollable changes he faces day in and day out, not to also sometimes hate the fast pace of growing up? 

Maybe he hates the tides of shifting friendships. One day, you know who your closest buddies are, and the next they blame you in the principal’s office, trying to lighten their sentence of classroom disruption. At this stage, our kids are testing the waters of lifelong friendship. I believe this struggle targets girls more than boys, but it can be a rough road for all involved, no doubt. 

And then, there are the confusing feelings surrounding the opposite sex. I can’t even wrap my head around this one. I understand men less now (at 44) than I did at my son’s age (13) and yet, there is no denying the interest, fascination, and intrigue that comes with beginning to appreciate the opposite sex for the first time in one’s life. 

Instead of hating me, maybe he hates that he doesn’t understand what is happening to his body, why he can’t control his impulses, how it seems impossible to differentiate between the thoughts swimming wildly in his head and what is appropriate to say aloud. He likely hates feeling that the only way to be popular with his friends is to garner attention in negative ways that lead to trouble with his teachers and school administration. He possibly sees images and social media accounts of how life should be but feels disillusioned that his own life is very different. 

I try to think back to what it was like when I was my son’s age. 13. As a girl, it was, no doubt, a completely different experience. But one thing is certain: it was still hard. Growing up is tough. They don’t call it ‘growing pains’ without good reason. The angst, confusion, bizarre thoughts, feelings, and desires….it is a lot for a young boy on the threshold of becoming a young man to comprehend, much less stabilize day in and day out. 

Fast-forward a mere 12 hours later, we are on the way to school. I look over at this wild-haired, handsome young man sitting shotgun right beside me. ‘Do you still hate me?’ I sheepishly ask. ‘Nah’, he half-smiles. And I catch a semblance of that precious twinkle in his eye that captivated me when he was a little guy. I know the tides are turning. I know these years are trying. I know growing up is hard, and as a mother, knowing when to let go and when to hold tight is a dangerous balancing act I have not quite mastered. 

I also know that no matter how many times he says: ‘I hate you!’ it is simply not true. He may hate many things about life right now, and I can’t say I blame him. But I know, deep down, that we will survive this season. And I hold tight to the less confrontational interactions we share daily and carefully collect the multitudes of times he says, ‘Mom, I love you’ in my heart. Knowing full well that that may just be one of the only things he is sure about right now…..

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